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Delft mama of the week: Elizabeth

Our Delft mama of the week, Elizabeth, has worked as a political consultant, a NASA tour guide, and a lawyer, volunteered for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Ghana, traveled to 30 countries and 45/50 US states, and even been inside the Space Shuttle. Now she is a travel writer and full-time mom living in the Netherlands.

In 2015, Elizabeth’s husband, Jeff, was offered the exciting opportunity to complete his PhD at TU Delft, and Elizabeth and her two older sons eagerly joined him. They saw Delft as a charming town in its own right and an ideal base to travel around Europe. A third son joined the family and their travels in 2016.

Elizabeth is clearly enamored of the Netherlands and of Delft in particular. She describes it as “a real town with the advantage for expats that everybody speaks English and that you can find friends. There are a million little restaurants in every price bracket, and there are parks hiddeneverywhere. You can go climb the windmill, go to the farm and buy eggs, or see sheep at the petting zoo. These are just so many opportunities in this special town.”

A half year before arriving in Delft, she found the Delft MaMa Facebook group and connected with fellow Coloridan Caroline. When she first arrived in town, Caroline helped connect her to Delft MaMa friends and resources, giving her an invaluable piece of advice: “surround yourself with expats who are excited to be here in Netherlands, as your local friends will largely determine your mood.” Elizabeth has put this advice to good use, not only finding supportive friends, but also making herself a valued member of the Delft MaMa community. She co-coordinates the weekly Delft MaMa newsletter with Karen, and in the coming months, you may have the chance to read an original post or two of hers on the Delft MaMa blog.

Elizabeth believes that “Delft MaMa is a wonderful resource that provides something for every personality type. If you are a one-on-one person, there are many events. Ifyou need mom friends, you can go to a Mom’s Night Out. If you need friends for your children, there are playgroups. If you are just are looking for advice, you can ask on the Facebook, and the newsletter details what’s going on locally in the coming months. When I travel, I usually look for something like Delft MaMa, but a lot of places either do not have an equivalent or the local international family group is not on the same level as a support group.”

Elizabeth is thriving in Europe, but the decision to move to the Netherlands was not so straightforward from a professional perspective, as her visa status precludes her from working locally. Elizabeth’s optimistic and driven personality, though, have helped her to embrace this difficulty and turn it into many opportunities – that to spend more time with her children, blog actively, and pursue other endeavors close to her heart, particularly traveling.

Elizabeth’s blog, Dutch Dutch Goose, started as a way to share her European travel experiences with family and friends and as an outlet for her creative and professional talents. Dutch Dutch Goose soon became a popular resource for families around the world. Her post on traveling from the US to Europe on the Queen Mary 2 with children was a particular hit, given the lack of information available on this topic online. Thanks to the success of her own blog Elizabeth was also asked to become editor-in-chief of BebeVoyage, a global community of parents providing local, practical advice on traveling with kids.

Elizabeth and her husband traveled widely before having children and have decided to use travel as an educational tool with their children. They firmly believe that “the places we see and people we meet during our different travel experiences help make our children better human beings. Exposing our kids to so many different tastes, modes of transportation, ways of living, and cultures is the most wonderful gift we can give them.”

Elizabeth is also always challenging herself and looking for ways to grow and learn through travel. For example, this careful planner took a trip this year without having organized any specific destinations or itineraries. You can find more about how the family managed this adventure in spontaneity here.

Through her blog, Elizabeth also shows families around the world that travel with children may be challenging but that it is both a feasible and a rewarding experience. For Elizabeth, there is no need to travel for many weeks or to a distant location to make a trip great, as visiting a nearbyfarm or museum can be just as valuable.

There is also no need to force your children to immerse completely in every aspect of a trip. Instead, do your best to ensure your children are comfortable and enjoying their time traveling, even if this means allowing them to look at the iPad on some museum visits or play at a local playground for some hours rather than visiting a site. Elizabeth notes, “I find that the kids absorb so much of the little stuff while traveling, like going to playgrounds and to kids cafes, as opposed to all the big tourist sites. At these places, they get a better picture of the local culture, differences in parenting, and differences in interactions between the kids.”

Furthermore, “the best trip for me is one where each member of the family has something that peaked their interest, and we have all gotten along and enjoyed ourselves as a family.” During our interview, Elizabeth described how a trip to Brussels’ train hostel that was requested and largely planned by her eldest son fits the bill.

To summarize some of her expert advice, Elizabeth encourages parents to know their kids and make them comfortable, know that disasters happen and don’t let them ruin trips, plan the right balance of activities parents are interested in and child-friendly activities in an itinerary, and allow children to absorb the little details during trips that show cultural differences.

One word that kept popping up during our conversation was “gift,” with travel as a gift, living in Delft as a gift, and even her local un-employability as a gift in disguise. Elizabeth also described her time interacting and talking to her kids while biking as a daily gift and one of the highlights of her life in the Netherlands. I hope all Delft mamas can also recognize and take advantage of the multitude of gifts in their lives and embrace challenges with as strong a positive attitude as Elizabeth. Indeed, it is this zeal for life and focus on uplifting values like joy, discovery, and gratitude that make Elizabeth so charming and her blog posts so delightful to read.

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Delft mama of the week: Olga

Ever since I started writing about the moms of the week for Delft MaMa blog, I’ve been asking those who I interview to nominate other mothers to be the next moms of the week. The list is ever-growing, but sometimes someone is nominated multiple times and it’s time to get to know them better. This is exactly the case with our mom of the week, Olga, who has been nominated by others who look up to her every now and again.

Although Olga lives in Rijswijk these days, she’s one of the Delft MaMa pioneers. She joined the playgroup that used to gather at St. Olofspark back in the day. Olga joined after she got someone call the police on her, so her journey so far has been not only long, but a noteworthy one as well. “I reached out and it was fantastic. It’s all the support you get. If you have a problem, you know someone who may know the answer, or at least they might know someone who knows the answer,” Olga says.

She’s sitting across the table from me in Bagels & Beans on the Markt, which she chose for us to meet. Olga orders macha latte, a very trendy drink indeed. “It’s Japanese green tea powder,” she clarifies while sipping her healthy looking drink.

Olga was born in Poland, but partly grew up in Germany. Her parents spoke several languages to her in her youth and when Olga did Erasmus exchange program in Hamburg, she met her German now husband, Nikolai. His studies took him to Winnipeg, Canada, where Olga followed, just to try her wings since given the chance. She loved her time in Canada, although she spent that time working in telemarketing and customer service, which is ironic because Olga has always found talking on the phone difficult. In the end she’s glad she did it, as it gave her a yet broader perspective of the world around her. After the year in Canada, the couple moved back to Germany, where their first-born, Klara (8), was born and soon enough the family settled in Delft. In the years to follow Klara got company from her little sister, Julia (6), and little brother, Markian (4).

By the time they settled down, Olga had lived on two continents, four countries and countless addresses. It’s no wonder when figuring out her national identity, Olga found it very natural to refer to herself as a European Mama for her blog.

Having studied German in the University, she wasn’t exactly sure what was in the future for her. Before she started blogging, she thought blogging was for people who mainly wrote about themselves. Little did she know there already was a whole community out there with similar feelings and experiences to her. Accidentally, she tumbled into blogging and over the years found her audience growing. “What I don’t understand about blogging is that everyone tells you to find your niche and stick to it. After a while I get bored about a subject,” Olga says.

Even with blogging, Olga has been following her own intuition and has been writing about what she gets inspired about. Currently she’s responsible for one major parenting newsletter and writing paid articles about various subjects, ranging from motherhood to tech. She’s also working on publishing her grandfather’s text about his experiences. “It’s his story in a holocaust. He lived in Ukraine, but moved to Warsaw when situation was getting tough there and they thought it would be safer in Poland. They got caught in Warsaw uprising and his first wife died. I was thinking what would have happened if she survived. I wouldn’t be here. I think I owe her my life in a way,” Olga says and struggles finding the words about what she means to her.

Personally, I’ve known Olga since 2011, and every time I meet her, she leaves me with more questions than what I had in mind before meeting up with her. Even though this time I came to her with a bunch of questions, when our time together is up, she still manages to intrigue my curiosity to the point that this expectation is yet again met.

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Delft mama of the week: Xiaolin

Raising children in a foreign culture is always a challenge, and this week’s DelftMaMa Xiaolin is actively working to help Chinese children in the Netherlands have a strong and positive relationship with their cultural background.

I first met Xiaolin at the library last year, as she was showing some Chinese moms around, and I felt from the start that she was an astute leader and organizer. The more I have had the chance to speak with her and see her in action, the more this impression rings true. In the past two years alone, she has created a vibrant social media chat group for Chinese mothers in the Netherlands, organized many activities including a Lantern Festival celebration for over twenty families, coordinated a monthly children event on different topics (art / story / technology) and also coordinated weekly yoga class for mamas. Now, she and other like-minded moms is on the way to creat Chinese Mama’s in Nederland (CMN) association.

Xiaolin, originally from the city of Datong in Northern China, first came to Delft ten years ago as a student of chemical engineering at TU Delft. On her first day in Delft, she was paired in a group with Junju. He is now her husband, and they are parents to Yojan (2.5 years) and Minghe (11 months). Xiaolin has experiences in bringing together the best of different cultures not only as a Chinese native living in the West but also in her own marriage as Junju is from Taiwan, which is culturally similar to mainland China but does have many unique traditions.

The couple have lived all over the Netherlands, but are now happy to call Delft home once again. “After I graduated, I moved to many places including Leiden, Apedldoorn, Arnhem, and Rotterdam. But when we decided to settle down, we chose Delft, as it is an attractive city that contains both youth and old, modern and traditional. Therefore we made Delft our new hometown.”

She manages to feel very comfortable living in the Netherlands, although it is bittersweet to be separated from the rich cultural tradition of her homeland and the caring hands of her folks. She finds, “the Netherlands is a country that is not only attractive, it is also a country with values that resonate such as openness, honesty, and a balance between work of life that make us want to stay. ”

Friends describe Xiaolin as smart, dedicated, helpful, and cooperative. I would add that she is highly curious person, while she describes herself as a decisive person, “I am quite strict thinking-wise. If I think something is right, I will do it immediately. I do not think very deeply into the pros and cons of an issue. Once I have decided something, I go for it.” All of these traits surely helped Xiaolin in bringing together Chinese moms in the Netherlands.

Once Xiaolin became pregnant she decided that she needed to find a new group of friends who were either already moms or moms to be “I managed to meet many Chinese moms and decided to create the Chinese mamas moms in the Netherlands WeChat group. At that moment, I never imagined there were so many Chinese moms locally.” After only two years of existence, the Chinese Moms WeChat Group is already a large and active community with over 160 members. For those unfamiliar with the technology, WeChat is a social media application that is extremely popular and widely used in China and by Chinese speaking communities.

The moms wanted to go further, though, than simply chatting online and started to meet and discuss how they could channel their talents, interests, and shared goals into something larger.

As Xiaolin explains, “First-generation immigrants generally have a clear identity; we know who we are, we know our hometown, and we know why we came to the Netherlands. Culture-wise, though, our children are second generation immigrants, and very often the second generation of immigrants country feel lost. From their appearance, our children are from China, but from their education and experience growing up abroad they are completely different from their parents. We Chinese moms thus want to help educate our children to be a bridge between Chinese and Western culture. We want to help our children to be confident, aware of their Chinese heritage, and be proud of this identity.”

In the coming days, CMN will start its institutionalization process by publishing its mission and vision statement on a WeChat-related blog. The mission is to: 1) provide events and activities for Chinese families in the Netherlands; 2) create a shared platform for Chinese families in the Netherlands; 3) create development opportunities for Chinese families in the Netherlands and encourage and help them in the immigration process; 4) welcome foreigners and share the Chinese culture with the broader community.

The group is already actively organizing events to help transmit the beauty and richness of the Chinese culture and equip children to successfully integrate their double identity. “We worry very much that our children may forget the Chinese language and culture. We have thus decided to give the children courses and opportunities to play together. This way one day when they have started to think about their own identity and philosophy, they have not only parents to consult with but also their own friends who have similar background. These children will grow up together and share the same experiences. Hopefully, they will then not feel as lonely in their experience as second-generation immigrants often do.”

In March, CMN hosted their first art class with approximately thirty participants and are now lining up more art, storytelling, and technology classes. The challenge is not so much finding volunteers but catching up with the demand from all all interested families. According to Xiaolin, “we have some very professional and talented moms. These amazing women are willing to share their talents and help create activities for the children, but every time we announce a new class on WeChat, it is full within a half hour.”

The organization is focused on growing step by step and following through with its mission, but “there are a lot of things we don’t know yet. It is the first time we are moms, and this organization is something we can grow up together with our children.”

Xiaolin, who is active on the DelftMaMa Facebook group and has attended DelftMaMa playgroups, sees opportunities for mutual learning and sharing. “I have learned a lot so far from DelftMaMa, even just on the Facebook Group. It is a mature organization, and there is a lot we can learn from DelftMaMa. There are a lot of professional moms involved in DelftMaMa, and I would hope that one day we can sit down together and share experiences and lessons learned. I would be very enthusiastic about that.”

Juggling her career, raising two children, and being very active in associational life is a challenge, but Xiaolin shared one very effective insight that has have helped her maintain time for herself and be so effective even with such a busy schedule. “A useful hack is to find what you want to do instead of letting life push you. In this way, you find yourself more a master of your life.”

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Delft mama of the week: Sine

Sine invites me to her house for the interview. When we step in the elevator she tells me many of her neighbours are older people. She loves it, as they are very curious about her son, Arda (4). Just like herself, her husband Faruk also originates from Turkey. When biological grandparents are a plane ride away, living among the elderly is giving their family some invaluable contacts that otherwise might be harder to come by.

It’s the first time I visit Sine in her home. The Sun is shining outside and laying rays on the two yellow armchairs in front of their living room windows. The style of the home is impeccable and it feels welcoming. Sine tells me she could’ve chosen her career path differently and pursue one of her dreams of becoming a designer. She sure has the eye and the taste level for it. However, Sine chose another one of her passions and decided to study English language and literature at the University of Gaziantep in southern Turkey. That is also where she met Faruk.

When I listen to her stories, she comes across like a bit of a nomad. Both of her parents are from Circassian descent, both of whom are born in Turkey. Circassia was a sovereign nation until the mid-19th century on the shore of the Black Sea with its own rich language and cultural heritage. Her name, Sine, is a typical Circassian name, so although born and raised in Turkey, her parents valued their heritage and Sine was already happily living between two worlds.

Her first experience outside Turkey by herself was her three-month trip to Alaska through a work and travel program and afterwards she knew she couldn’t settle in Turkey for good. During their University years Faruk applied U.S. Green Card lottery and asked her to try as well. She calls her last year at the University her “lucky year”, because not only was Sine granted a chance to study in Denmark, but she also won a Green Card. Instead of spending an entire year in Denmark, she spent three months there and then moved to New York with her husband.

The nearly seven years they spent in New York were great but tough. When Arda was born, the grandparents from both sides would fly from Turkey and babysit him one after another. “In New York we had fun, but we did work a lot. When I was studying in Turkey, I was reading about American history and about the American dream, but in New York life was different. You don’t have much time to spend with your family,” Sine points out. When Arda was born, Faruk didn’t get to see him almost at all. Luckily Sine’s work at a non-profit organization was more flexible, but in the long run something needed to change. Out of all places, the family relocated to Oklahoma.

The first three months in Oklahoma were great, but soon enough Sine realized she misses the big international community around her, which she had gotten used to while working in Manhattan. Some years in, Sine realized she wasn’t very happy in Oklahoma. The window of the opportunity to move to another country was closing in, because Arda was getting older and soon they would have to think about settling down for a longer period.

In 2014 the family visited Maastricht during their holiday in Europe. It was then the spark for the Netherlands was ignited. In 2016 Sine’s husband arrived in Delft for a job interview and in September they moved to this picturesque town. It wasn’t a smooth transition, especially with the housing and picking a school, but one of the aspects that made the move easier was a great online community happy and quick to answer Sine’s questions. “I found Delft MaMa when I was searching for how to do something in Delft. Whenever I had questions in my mind I asked them. I joined the group before I came here and they helped me a lot about many questions, and got me socializing quickly”, Sine says. Sine also took part in a DMM organized soft-landing in Delft, or SLiDe program for short, and after seven months of experience on living in Delft she felt confident enough to mentor another Turkish newcomer.

Because of her keen eye, Sine has been volunteering for the DMM even further to help with the 10-year anniversary preparations. “I like doing things like decorating and currently I have enough time to help with these kinds of things. A lot of other organizations in the Netherlands require a lot of Dutch. Delft MaMa is more international”, our mom of the week points out.

People often ask Sine if they moved to the Netherlands, because statistically some of the happiest kids in the world live there, but she tells me it wasn’t the reason. “To me it seems the kids are happy, because from my point of view it’s such a luxurious thing to spend breakfast time with family in the morning, then bring the kids to school that is at a walking or cycling distance, have time to stay at school for a moment, go to work and be back home for dinner.”

In the end, when I ask about Sine’s cultural identity, she says to me she feels more Circassian than Turkish, more American than Turkish, but when she must say where home is, it’s Turkey. “Maybe in 10 years I’ll say I’m more Dutch, who knows. To me, it’s having the best of both worlds. I want my son to grow up in an environment with people from different cultures. We had that in New York and I loved that aspect so much. Delft is no New York, but it has a big international community. I feel so lucky,” Sine says happily.

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Delft mama of the week: Marie

I met Marie for first time last year when she started hosting the Delft MaMa playgroup. She is currently the playgroup coordinator and she’s taking part in several other DMM projects as well.

We sit down together on display on the window of Hummus in Delft and order hot beverages. It’s Saturday and she’s coming straight from mindfulness yoga. It fits the first impression I had of her: a calm mom oozing nothing but serenity, but Marie tells me laughing her yoga classes were a gift from her husband, who hopes she can find it easier to relax a bit. Marie has been called too serious all her life, because of her amazing drive and ambition, so she has made a conscious effort of finding ways to loosen up a bit. To her luck, becoming a mother has been one of the things that has helped her in her quest.

Marie has been calling the Netherlands home for a few years. She used to travel a lot first for her studies: a scholarship took her from her home in the US to Paris when she was only 16, and later during her undergraduate studies Marie spent a semester in Brazil, two summers in Russia and one summer in Paris, where she also completed her master’s degree. Later in life her project based work took her from Scotland to Singapore and everywhere in between. She loves Brazil and says Vietnam is one of her favorite countries. But the love of her life, a Chinese man Junzi, Marie met by coincidence in the Netherlands.

When Marie was expecting their son, now a 1-year-old William, the married couple decided to settle down in Delft. Earlier having spent her time visiting new countries and cities every two to three weeks, Marie was sure she’d go out of her mind in such a small place as Delft. She had good friends in The Hague and in Haarlem, but she was missing a closer safety net. “When I first had William, I wasn’t meeting others very much, but I knew about Delft MaMa. When he was 5-6 months old, I decided to come to the playgroup”, Marie says. Meeting other moms allowed her to create her own social circles in Delft and thanks to this simple plan followed by action she’s much more involved in the community and to her surprise has yet to feel bored in the beautiful medieval town.

Marie speaks several languages fluently (English, French, Portuguese, Russian) and is constantly pushing the envelope with useful things to learn. She is currently taking Dutch lessons and teaching herself Chinese and she’s soon traveling to China with William to stay with her in-laws for a month to get more immersed in the language. She has always been hard-working and extremely driven at school and at work. Before becoming a mother, she describes herself as having been “definitely workaholic”. As one might assume, it has been a big adjustment fitting in the stay-at-home-mom shoes.

Lately Marie has been increasingly thinking about returning to work. The original plan – to return to work when William was three months old – didn’t go through. She realized the plans she had made before the birth of her child weren’t what she wanted and she listened to her heart instead. “Outsiders often think I’m calm, but I feel it’s the opposite! The main struggle now is should I go back to work or should I stay with William,” Marie explains.

The struggle is familiar to if not all, to most mothers. Marie says she knows she shouldn’t compare her own situation to her friends who are working in very prestigious positions around the world, but she can’t help but think about the opportunities she had, the good schools she went to and the professional ambition she to this day has. Now that William is one year old, Marie started to apply to again. She has sent out tons of applications, but hasn’t gotten that much interesting feedback. “It’s always difficult when you’re used to having a job and now I have to think how much I want a certain job and how much I want to stay at home with William. He’ll never be young again, but maybe if I stay out of work too long, I might have more difficulties finding a good job”, Marie says.

She often thinks about why work is so important for people in general. In the more distant past people didn’t define themselves by their work, but now it seems to be one of the first questions people ask each other. Before Marie didn’t mind this question at all, but lately she noticed how defining this question sounds. “It makes you think why do we value work so much as the value of the individual, when it doesn’t represent much at all. Of course it can, but oftentimes it doesn’t,” Marie says and explains how these days a specific job isn’t always what someone chooses to do, as it depends a lot about circumstances one can’t control. “If I’m philosophical enough I’d say would it matter if I’m working or not? What I’m doing is probably more valuable than what a lot of work people do,” she rightfully says at the end of our talk.

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Delft Mama of the week: Natali

I’m meeting our mom of the week at café Kek in the center of Delft. I’m early, but she’s already sitting by the table working. Behind her there are frames with cool drawings, including one with a feather.

Feather seems to be a reoccurring thing for our mom of the week, Natali. It’s also on the cover of her book, The Path Keeper, that came out recently. When I ask about the meaning of the feather, she smiles and says I need to read her book to figure out. After her first novel came out, she has already been compared to no other than George R. R. Martin. Natali has a book deal in her pocket for two more books, coming out in February 2018 and 2019.

Natali was born in London, but grew up in Barcelona until her 7th year when she returned to London with her mother. As a daughter to an English teacher and a Catalan graphic designer, language and art have always been steadily present in her life. Mirroring to her background Natali has had a great career in marketing and publishing, working for publications such as Cosmopolitan Magazine and Harpers & Queen (now known as Harper’s Bazaar).

Before settling down, Natali spent 14 months backpacking on her own. During this trip she met her English husband, Peter. Isabelle (8) was born in London, but Peter’s work took the family to the province of Malaga in Spain and the second daughter of the family, Olivia (6), soon followed. “I went from being a London girl having a really cool job to a relaxed mom in Spain,” Natali says and tells me that’s when she got into writing. No family and friends to balance the plate, yet raising two small daughters she had to find a way to work around it. Natali set up her own freelance marketing company, got extremely involved with the local wedding industry and worked in the lifestyle sector. “It was a really good fun, but then my husband got a job in the Netherlands, the children were getting into the age where as much as we love the beach, they needed more culture and diversity,” Natali explains their reasons for moving to Delft.

Before setting a foot on the Dutch soil for the next three years, Natali had already joined the Delft MaMa community. She deliberately looked for it, because she’s the founder of a similar mom group for English speaking expats in Costa del Sol, and figured there must be one in Delft too. Joining the parenting community before arriving was important as it gave Natali and her family a chance to establish friends and contacts before arriving.

Sharing her experiences to empower the mothers around her has been really important for our mom of the week. “For the last few years I have wanted to do a workshop called “moms with ambition” for women who are in that transitionary state of motherhood, having been somebody, being a mom, wanting to go back to who they are, were, but struggling, because they aren’t the same person anymore.” She sees the huge potential to do cool projects with like-minded Delft Mamas and has already been planning some workshops.

Her book is written for young adults, but many of her readers are over their 30’s. Natali points out something that many of us might not have realized before: “Empowering mothers and empowering teenage girls is very similar. We’re hormonal, making that transition, trying to discover or find themselves.” During her book tour she has visited schools and talked to a lot of teenage girls. Even if Natali can make one child think they can do it because of her encouraging words and outstanding example, it’s all that matters to her.

Since Natali was little, she has always been writing stories and drawing pictures. She filled a notebook after another during her nomad years, but only when she moved to Spain she tapped into something she had always loved and she got serious about writing. “You don’t realize you’ve always been something until you start doing it professionally”, Natali says. During her years in Spain she co-founded an online magazine The Glass House Girls that has tens of thousands of followers, she joined a writing class and started writing her book. “I never really lacked confidence. I always felt you should be allowed to do what you want to do, which is sometimes difficult as a mom. Going on the writing class enriched me. My teacher gave me a lot of feedback and told me I could write,” Natali explains. She surrounded herself with other writers and after years of writing, she finished her book. That’s when the work started. “When you’ve been three years writing something, getting a publishing deal feels like the end, but it’s actually the beginning. You then have to be very patient, because it’s a very slow process,” she states.

Although Natali doesn’t write like most people, she has come to realize the style doesn’t matter as long as what you have in the end works. She processes absolutely every aspect of her story in her head before simply typing it down. “Don’t worry about doing it right”, she says about her experience and continues saying experimenting is the key, but the most important thing is to have a story that is engaging. “Really open yourself up, pour yourself onto the pages. Don’t be scared or embarrassed about making yourself vulnerable, because you have to and that’s why it’s so difficult to be creative. You’re throwing your heart out and waiting for everyone to give their opinion and they are all different. That’s being an artist,” Natali sums it up with a profound insight.

If you want to meet Natali, she’ll be at the Comic Con in Utrecht 25-26 of March.

The Path Keeper is available on Amazon.com The book contains sex and strong language.

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Delft Mama of the week: Masha

If you aren’t a native English speaker like myself, when you first start talking to Masha you’ll most likely think you’re talking with someone from North America. But after a while she might say something about Russia and you just have to ask, and that’s exactly what I did.

The first 18,5 years of her life our mom of the week grew up in Tomsk in the Russian Siberia. She chuckles about telling people she comes from Siberia, but she says the winters were cold, but the summers were hot, too. Masha moved to Vermont in the United States on the brink of adulthood following her big sister and to continue medical science studies there. Another 18,5 years later Masha, her American husband Ryan and their children Alice (5,5) and her 1,5-year-old little brother, Sasha, packed up their two dogs and belongings and moved to Delft.

The family wanted to move to anywhere in the EU, but their friends in Breda got them interested in the Netherlands. In the end the choice was narrowed down to Delft and Leiden. One of the reasons the family chose Delft in the end was no other than the existence of such a thriving and functional parenting community. “Delft MaMa made it feel like this is the place to go”, Masha says.

She has been attending some of the DMM activities ever since the first week after the touchdown. Masha got involved with the Facebook group even before moving here, but only met her first moms at events such as high tea and DelftMaMa Cinema Club. “One of the moms got me a ticket to the movies, although she didn’t even know me”, Masha explains with gratitude in her voice.

Because Masha works from home these days, her schedule allows her to meet up with other moms and toddlers whenever she feels she can squeeze it in. She tells me the best thing about being a mother in the Netherlands is to have more time for her family, as moving here meant being able to cut down a lot of extra responsibilities. Now Masha only has to manage herself at work, which makes her working life easier compared to the past.

Although Masha travels a lot for work, the family is constantly planning trips together to various different European countries. Their next vacation will be in (hopefully sunny) Lisbon. Masha has a bucket list for traveling and for places she wants to visit. “I love art and I want to visit more museums. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about my favorite artists of which many are less known Russians or Americans”, Masha says and explains that because of her chemistry background, she finds style and technique more fascinating than anything else. When I ask her what her favorite art style is, she says without hesitation:“Photography! I used to do photography and I’ve done a lot of imaging for work in microscopy level. There is a darkroom photo printing technique called liquid light where you apply the film on the paper and your printed photo looks much more like a painting.”

For now, family, work, dogs and traveling are pretty much filling up the days of this incredibly hard-working, intelligent and efficient lady. When I ask about their plans of staying in Delft, she says jokingly “maybe for the next 18,5 years! I’m very slowly making my way to the Caribbean.” Masha ends up the conversation with the same humorous note she’s had on throughout our talk together: “when I retire I should be south enough to end up there.”

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Delft Mama of the week: América

She has a delicate voice, but a lot of power behind her words. She talks about politics, her enthusiastic boys, her upcoming wedding and about her love for running. You might have hard time guessing this elegant lady used to be a lead singer of a punk band and loved skateboarding and judo, but the fire and passion that has seemingly always resided in her becomes clear quite fast. And she’s our mom of the week, América.

Brazilian América met her Dutch soon-to-be husband Robert at a wedding of a Brazilian and Dutch couple. Two years later she found herself living in Delft and starting a family. At eight weeks of pregnancy the couple went to see the midwife for a sonogram. “Oh, I see something”, said the midwife and paused for a second. América and Robert both saw it on the screen; their wishes had been answered – twice. At first América got worried, because she had no immediate family around her, but eventually got used to the idea. Identical twins Sven and 16 minutes younger Thomas were born some 28 weeks after the first sonogram in 2014.

I ask América the question she probably has answered a thousand times by now: have you always been sure which one is which? “I was worried about it when we got home from the hospital, because they had been wearing the bracelet tags all along. My kraamzorgster helped me a lot though. She said “now let’s take a good look at them, you’re their mother” and ever since I’ve known which one is which”, América says. Now it even seems funny to her she could have ever felt confused in the beginning, because as identical as the boys may be, there is a big difference in them in her trained eyes. To make it easier for everyone else around, the parents dress the boys differently and gives them different haircuts too.

Our mom of the week fills her days with her boys by mapping the over 200 playgrounds in Delft (yes, you read that amount correctly) and soon she’ll start blogging for DMM, too. Alone with two toddlers, going out to a playground became a challenge, so she started making notes about her favorite ones. “I started to look for playgrounds that were closed with a fence, small and that didn’t have huge climbing racks”, she says. América was open at the consultatiebureau about the challenges going outdoors with her fast twin boys and to her aid, the consultatiebureau offered a volunteer grandma through their Home Starter program. América, Sven and Thomas have been enjoying the company of their Dutch grandma for half a year now for three hours a week. She speaks Dutch, helps América with things she needs the support in, but respects her ways of raising the children. “You’ll tell what kind of help you need. In the beginning she would not interfere, but now I ask her advice and she helps me. The volunteers respect your parenting and are there for the support”, América explains. The boys are very strong-willed and as a mother, América needs to be very strict and consequent with them. “By becoming a mom, I found out I’m really strong”, she rejoices.

América has a background in communication design and a vast interest in photography, handicrafts and history. She got her degree in Germany and stayed there for over a decade before returning back to Brazil only to find out she had hard time adapting back to her native land. Brazil had changed and so had América. Life with Robert took her to Delft and the years in the Netherlands have been good for them. However, in the upcoming summer the family is packing up their belongings and moving to Oman in the Middle East for a duration of a job contract. América tells me moving there means the couple needs to get married, fast I might add. When they found out about the need for a marriage certificate in order to move there as a family, Robert scheduled a babysitter for the boys, took América to Paris and properly proposed to her in a place that holds a lot of meaning to the couple. She smiles the entire time she talks about her family or her upcoming wedding, even though it has been one busy schedule trying to make it all happen. Her dress will be mint green, which is also the color for celebration in Oman according to our bride. And the wedding date? No other than Valentine’s Day!

After the wedding, the planning and packing will start. The family will be living in a compound with around 200 other families, but América is already looking forward to Oman outside the neighborhood. “In the beginning I was a little worried about moving to Oman, but then I started to learn about it and now I’m really excited about moving there”, she tells and continues explaining how she’s looking forward to the hot weather and maxi dresses, the outdoors, sand, camels and beaches, but most of all learning Arabic. “It’s a chance to learn it and get new influence of other ways of living. It’s good to open up the horizons”, she smilingly adds. Seeing how América takes up on a challenge and turns even the simplest things into something educational, useful or beautiful, I can’t wait to talk to her once she returns to Delft, a little over three years from now…

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Delft Mama of the week: Feliciana

The first time I met her was just before Christmas. She made me and a bunch of other Delft mamas dance zumba and encouraged all of us in every turn. She was nominated to be the Mom of the week by another mom, and after witnessing her contagious joy, I had to make an appointment for the interview with this Tanzanian wonder.

A former model, a former bank employee and a current zumba teacher, Feliciana, is the mother of Lisa (7) and Max (5) and the wife of Belgian Jonathan. The couple met in Tanzania where some years later Lisa was born. “I always had my family around me when she was born. When [few years later] I had Max in Brussels, I had to do everything by myself from day one, and it was quite the challenge. In Tanzania there’s always someone and you can’t resist the help”, Feliciana tells me over her hot cup of fresh mint tea. She continues explaining how life is easy in her native country, despite poverty, because people live day to day, not taking things too seriously, just enjoying the present moment, because tomorrow is always a mystery.

After living in Brussels the family moved to a small town close to Washington D.C. for a few years before arriving to Delft just two years ago. As much as Feliciana enjoyed her time in the US, she tells me the moment she arrived in Delft, she felt there was something special about this city. “It’s easy to move around, communicating is easy, although I’m learning Dutch now. The Dutch people aren’t very open, but they are very friendly. I enjoy family life here, the environment, the culture, the friendships and the community around me. At the moment I’m very happy here, despite the weather. I used to shave my head, but after moving to Brussels I used to have a runny nose all the time. Having hair makes a big difference, just like dressing in layers”, Feliciana says. Turns out, years of living in colder climates don’t make you cold resistant, but you do learn to deal with it differently.

Feliciana started zumba after Max was born. She was trying to find a hobby that was not too demanding. She loves jogging, but after having some issues with her knees, her doctor told her it wasn’t a good idea to run. She tried yoga, but found it rather uncomfortable. Patiently Feliciana kept on looking and eventually heard about zumba and decided to give it a try. It must’ve been love at first dance, because only a few years later Feliciana was the one giving the lessons to other zumba enthusiasts. She tells me one of her favorite places in the world to do zumba is the powder-white beaches of Zanzibar – the island along the coast of Tanzania – while the sea breeze cools you down. The turquoise water and and white sand sounds like a dream. I ask her to describe zumba to me. Feliciana answers without hesitation: “Zumba is a lot of fun! Afterwards you’ll feel relaxed and it’s not hard. You don’t need to squat or something, just move and enjoy the music. Zumba makes you enjoy life and be happy.” In Delft Feliciana has her Zumba Maisha, which accordingly is Swahili for “Life”. She gives lessons at the Lijm & Cultuur, Womanhood studio and soon also evening lessons at the VAK in the center.

From the looks of it, her plate is full with balancing family life in a new country, teaching zumba and learning Dutch, but this is only half of Feliciana’s story. Apart from trying to do what’s best for her family, she also sees herself in a position of being able to help others. She’s currently setting up a project in Tanzania with the help of her sister, who is a primary school teacher, and some friends. Feliciana has a name in mind for the project and it’s “Love” in her mother tongue. “Love” is aiming to help especially the most vulnerable people; the mothers and single caretakers of children, such as grandmothers. “Now I have to write a business plan. Pigs are a good business at the moment in my country”, Feliciana says excitedly and continues explaining that they will first have a try-out with five women. These women will be educated to care for piglets and turn them into pigs that they can then use as their income by raising and selling. All the ham is currently imported to Tanzania, so Feliciana is already gazing into the future. She hopes her women will eventually be providing ham to local hotels, and sees no problem of expanding the pilot to other animals in the future, as long as the results are promising. If all goes well, Feliciana and her team will have their own industry, a market and can expand while helping the locals on grass-root level.

You’d think with this Feliciana’s plate would surely be full, but she’ll leave you gasping once again (and not because of zumba this time). She’s also looking to start another project in Tanzania that includes building greenhouses to small villages to provide work, food and water regulation to people themselves, instead of being depended on the rain. In the long run employment and independence will improve the conditions in the village and give the villagers more chance to concentrate on giving better education to their children. Feliciana tells me a lot of children are simply left behind, especially girls. She once had a chance to send a girl to a tailoring course. The girl improved, earned an internship and was later employed. “All her friends at the same age already have five children and are stuck in villages in terrible conditions”, Feliciana tells me. By adding education and tangible chances, dependence becomes less.

It’s not a surprise people back in Tanzania have encouraged her to go into politics and run for president, but Feliciana simply laughs at this. “I don’t want to work in politics”, she says and brushes it off with a smile and carries on by saying: “I just want to see these things come alive and work. That’s how I spend my life and hopefully make a difference in people’s lives. You don’t need to make big difference all the time. Sometimes small things are enough.”

Feliciana says fear of failure, or even failure itself don’t discourage her anymore. “Maybe I’m growing up or something”, she happily notes. She used to doubt her own ideas more, but lately just feels like “Bring it on!” I smile at this sentence, because that kind of attitude is exactly what fascinated me about Feliciana when we first met and kept me listening to her inspiring story and uplifting ideas for a good hour. Bring it on.

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Delft Mama of the week: Fenia

It’s a sunny Friday morning when I park my bike in front of the tall, red EWI building at the TU Delft. She greets me by the entrance with a big smile on her face and an energetic spring in her step. She has been working as a post-doctoral software engineering researcher for about three years at the TU Delft. She knows an incredible list of languages: Greek, English, some Dutch, Java, C, C#, Scala, VB.net, PHP, ASP, Javascript and SQL. After this alphabetic exercise it doesn’t come as a surprise that she’s also one of the webmasters of Delft MaMa. And today she is our mom of the week, Fenia.
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